Lund retreat 2007

Lund Retreat Autumn 2007 (5)

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

7:20 A.M.

Forgot to meditate last night, an opportunity missed. I remembered as I dropped off to sleep. Instead I read Prodigal Summer till 10:30, the book absorbing, enjoyable but too long. Kingsolver’s characters are stagnating, but factual material about small homesteading and predation and insects is informative. I’ll have to space out this winter’s Ecolit class’s reading assignments over two weeks, while we do the short poems.

The theme of predation in Thoreau, Oliver, Austen. Other themes to pursue from the start of the class: evolution, meditation and Solitude, observation, primitivism, ecological harmony, ecological disaster, rural life, progress, natural patterns, the seasons, fertility, stages of the life cycle, the erotic.

10:58 My worry: the excitement I feel at returning here after absence, the delight in the house and the view, the thrill of seeing people like Lucien and Peter U. and Michael and Don, all are transitory and contingent. A few more hours or days and all will get stale and then the memory of the excitement will summon disgust.

I go out to the two rocks whose pictures I collected from the archive last night and take more photographs—of the moss and the lichens and the granite, of the spaces between them and the lines of their convergence, of the juxtaposition of large and small, parent and offspring. “Land Art.” But the shapes don’t please me as much as they did this summer while I cleared them.

The downloaded pictures don’t help. I try cropping. Name them them Adam and Eve? Play with the spaces between them, and their adjoining borders, remembering couples by Brancusi and Henry Moore. The only images that aren’t terrible are several of the large rock alone, massive and weighty, but with a readiness to pounce: rhinoceros.

Should I get rid of the smaller rock? I could sledge it to pieces. “Two paradises twere in one/ to live in paradise alone.” If the small rock broke off the big one, the one became two. Is two more or less? Can the two again become one? Questions for couples.

Moving the pictures around into a sequence: from the two discreet weighty masses to the negative spaces between them to their direct juxtaposition, like a yin-yang, to their combining as a single image. I’ll need a better camera with manual focus and tripod to carry it out.

Moss show—mosses on the rock. Story of the rocks. A legend of the rocks. Father and Daughter, mother and daughter, father and son, married couple.

4:30 p.m.

Back from shopping trip for tomorrow’s dinner with Michael. We looked at the dying salmon making their way up Sliammon creek, went to the Hatch-a-Bird and bought a chicken and veggies, shopped at Overwaitea. He’ll do all the work. I paid. Downloaded email at River City Coffee Shop to read at home.

Notice sent to everybody in the department with links for student newspaper profiles of Larry and Todd but not mine. I’m relieved, but saddened by that. My colleagues’ cordiality covers disdain. Also a note from JW whom I’ve had no contact with since he went right wing in 1967. He found my website and sent me a link to something of his, which I cant check out till I’m back online. Also a note about Columbia 1968 strike 40th reunion coming up. Not sure I want to celebrate that failed revolution.

After reading the email, I feel like I’m standing at the edge of a large hole, about to fall in. Novemberness. Wet, cold and dark now, wetter, colder, darker ahead. Even in the sunshine yesterday, when Lund was almost empty of people, I sensed the quiet like a cloud of nothingness surrounding whatever was there.

I talk to Jan. She’s at an art opening and tipsy on wine, people and politics. We share news of the last 24 hours. My mood lightens.

I walk over to the neighbor’s place. D. pours rum-cokes and talks about hunting. B. cooks and watches TV and says nothing. I return, defrost Renee’s soup and eat it with toasted bread and broccoli salad. I load and run the dishwasher and come back to the computer to play with images of the rocks in Photoshop. My work is desultory.

It’s close to nine. I meditate fifteen minutes. More quiet than this morning. I continue for another fifteen minutes, more quiet than before.

The story of digging out the rocks last August? Clearing the fir stump and red dirt and arbutus tree and salal around the base, the roots tearing at them, exfoliated pieces broken off by the concerted action of vegetation. Moss and lichen exude acid which breaks granite down to soil which they can grow in. The shrubs and trees thicken their roots to wedge in the cracks for stability, but the rocks split and no longer provide it so the roots spread further to regain it. The cabled fibrous texture of root is harder for me to break with pick and shovel than the rock, but yields to saw and axe. When the vegetation, soil and broken rock created by the vegetation is cleared away, the boulder’s real shape is revealed, seated not on bedrock but floating on its own detritus.

I read Michael’s crumpled menu and shopping list with affection. I ask myself to enjoy the piece of dark chocolate I break off and not just let it go by. I ask myself to look at this room and enjoy it now, as well as when arriving and leaving and away. It’s not only a room but a living space, a globe. Let me love what and whom I love while present. All moments have value, those of sadness, loss and self-hate are as fine as those of triumph and pride.

Or am I looking too hard? And cloying again? The trees intruding on the view of Savary were bothering me. Was the view of Savary bothering me too? Is being here now both enjoyment and loathing? Is all this oscillation the product of too much time on my hands? Or is time on my hands what I need to find what I seek? And what would prove it found? Written work worth publishing? I peruse my archives and come up with a downloaded pdf of last year’s Presidential Address to the American Studies Association that cites my 1989 essay on Diablo Canyon. I reread the essay with pleasure.

Lund Retreat Autumn 2007 (6)

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Woke up at 5:30 this morning, eager to start the day probably from anticipation: dinner party tonight, Lucien coming to cut firewood—company. But also solitude: the sensation of the warm bath, reading, meditating, and returning to this journal. Researching granite and moss, liverworts and lichen. Photoshopping pictures of the rocks with the sequence I came upon yesterday: filter>artistic>cutout>4.4.1 and 4.10.1.

And searching for Knoll House journals in the computer.

Back to the day of the dead: excerpts from Court Evidence transcribed in the blog of two years ago: Glimpses of Kenneth.

A 1998 poem and reflection about Ellen’s coming death.

June 21 1998

Amazingly you’re back
And still “with no deficits.”
Each message feels like my last,
And yet there comes an answer.
This is what war was like:
Someone at home writing
To a soldier on the front.

Why is it that death interests me so? The only thing worth writing about. The only relationship really worth pursuing–with a woman who’s got one foot in the grave. “This is it,” she wrote in an email a year ago. This is it.

And a sonnet to her dated May 10 1964, my first year in grad school.

Indifference has only one cure that I know
The solution is obvious but hard to apply
Cold shoulders and hearts must be warmed up with snow
Not answering in kind will produce a reply.

The icier my silence, the sooner you thaw
But you freeze when my temperature rises.
“Nothing from nothing,” declares the old saw
Yet here nothing claims all of the prizes.

Passionate pleadings and drunk declarations,
Whatever displays my feelings, my fire
The overwrought products of late lucubrations
Won’t further but frustrate my ardent desire.

Though I realize restraint would be much more effective
Still I’ll send you these lines and forsake my objective.

The song playing in the morning darkness: Eric Clapton’s “Drowning in a River of Tears.”

A poem to Jan written a month after we met, preserved in a 1992 Journal:

May 10, 1966

Reveille

This morning I awoke from sleep
And smiled although you weren’ there.
Exuberant with gratitude
That I’d returned from solitude
Back to a world we share.

The bed I lay in still was warm
With the languid memory of your breast
And sense with fancy subtly blent
The sweet trace of our mingled scent
The room itself was blessed.

A dumb indifferent world transformed
Into a friendly welcome place
Reminding me of last night’s kiss
And promising the next night’s bliss
Denying time and space.

The taking of the vitamin
Acquired a sacramental drift
My imitative ritual
That answers to the purple pill
Which served to pledge your gift.

And later in the day I found
The promise of the early hour
Fulfilled again when sight unseen
My ugly, lonely brown machine
Was changed into a flower.

Morning meditation: noisy but with a buzz. Sounds of rain hitting roof, hard to distinguish from sounds of fire and stovepipe. The inside temperature always changing. The outside world without color.

Shore pine, Pinus contorta. Bundles of two needles. There’s lots around. Someone once told me it was worthless for firewood. I cut a stick out of a windfall with the handsaw and put it in the stove to find out. Seems to burn nicely. Check with Dick. He says, “Jack Pine, its great firewood.”

“Short to 20 m. bark moderately thick, scaly or deeply furrowed into plates, dark brown to blackish… Restricted to dry rocky areas with shallow soil, not because this habitat represents optimum growing conditions for it, but because it is intolerant of shade and connote compete with other conifer species in the more favorable habitats.”

The sun is lighting up half the sky and droplets in the wire mesh on the deck railing.

After two hours of cutting, splitting and loading wood into the shed with Lucien, it’s close to half full. We took down two trees. The top of one came within two feet of the house. The other bent his chain bar, but he was able to unbend most of the curve. Both mishaps resulted from following my advice.

Michael comes over at four and completes the dinner preparation he’s been working on since yesterday afternoon.

Company arrives soon after 5. Lucien brings a huge bag of Chanterelles he picked in a favorite spot after this afternoon’s woodcutting. Sophia loves Ethan’s toys and the slideshow on the computer. Don comes with Paula, the one person here who wasn’t yet family. Peter B. brings a packet from Margaret who’s on Savary with her woman’s group: a new signed copy of Sheila Munro’s biography of her mother—cost $19.50, not the $450 asked for by Amazon. Mara’s birthday adds festivity. She looks little changed from the Mushy who lived on the Funny Farm in 1971. While everyone delights in his dinner, Michael recites Robert W. Service poems with a professional actor’s presence and range.

Lund Retreat Autumn 2007 (7)

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

Peter B. is back here at 6:30 in morning to pick me up for a hike up into the Coast Range. I have some difficulty getting going and packing what I need for the day. We drive two hours to the trailhead on logging roads where no old growth remains and the second growth is harvested with the haste of looters. But this grandiose landscape would be inaccessible without those roads.

We ascend through juvenile yellow cedars and wine-red blueberry twigs above Gamma and Alpha lakes till we come to the half-iced over Beta lake, at the base of the two Knucklehead peaks.


This is the easiest ascent of any of the high mountains in the area, and Peter’s plan is to make a loop between the two peaks and around the lake. But as we pull ourselves up by gripping the heather protruding through the iced-over snow, it becomes evident that the going will be rougher than expected. At times the snow is soft enough or the crust is thin enough for us to break through and gain traction. But in most places the surface is slick with hard ice.

At a little plateau where the vegetation gives way to pure rock and snow, Peter unpacks his single pair of crampons.

One goes on his left foot the other on my right. If you put any weight on the foot without the crampon, you are sure to fall, not something you want to do, given the slope and dropoffs. With the cramponed foot, you carve a rough, flat resting place for the useless foot but dont move it until you’ve stepped sideways and a little forward with the cramponed foot. Then you move the useless foot into its prepared spot and repeat the sequence. This is a lesson on the complexity of normal walking. It takes half an hour to make what would be a five minute traverse without the ice.

The weather is clear, the views spectacular and proceeding is not too strenuous or frightening if you slow down and pay very close attention.

We decide to stop for lunch at the saddle between the peaks, forgo both summits and head back the way we came.

The way down is easier because we have tracks to follow and the snow has softened a little. What a substance: hard, soft, appearing and disappearing–a solid almost as mercurial as liquid or gas.

Once returned to the lake, we split up to meditate, sitting on cushions of heather in the early lowering sun. Back by nightfall at Peter’s house, we’re served a salmon dinner by Margaret. A girl at the reserve sold her the fish, which, it turned out, was stolen from her grandmother’s freezer.

Lund Retreat Autumn 2007 (8)

Monday, November 5th, 2007

How many vertical layers in Savaryview?

1. Deck surface
2. Railing
3. Close clearing with rocks
4. Path to bluff
5. Proscenium of trees
6. Lower fringe of trees in front of water
7. The passage between Mace and Hurtado points
8. Mace point
9. South beach and Savary trees
10. Georgia Strait
11. Comox peninsula
12. Comox Valley
13. Lower cloud layer
14. Front Range
15. Skyline Range
16. Distant sky
17. Overhead sky

What are the movements?

1. Sun, moon, star light: the time of day or night, the seasonal angle, the cloud covers
2. Skyscape: cloud density, color, shape, texture on horizontal and vertical axes
3. Wind: intensity, steadiness, direction, in sound, smells, effect on land, sky and seascapes
4. Tidal ebb and flow, shrinking and expanding the beach
5. Current in the channel
6. Snow cover on the mountains, expanding and receding
7. Wildlife: bugs, birds, mammals

The temperature drops a degree or two. Does the stove need a log? It’s been an hour. I go downstairs to check, feel warmth as I reach the bottom steps, hear the rippling flow of combustion, see the flicker in the window. Not at all. Instead of raising, I lower the damper. There’s a living being at work for my comfort down there that requires close tending. When I came home last night and the stove was cold, I worried that the jack pine was poor fuel, that Dick may have tricked me, that I’d have to order a load of fir for any visitors. But the fire lit easily, and when I woke up this morning, it was still going.

What are the planes of consciousness?

1. right now: the temperature, the stove, the view, the list, appetite
2. observing and recording right now
3. reading and revising right now’s entries
4. reading and revising yesterday’s entries
5. reflecting and commenting on yesterday’s entries right now
6. recalling: old stuff in the computer. Old stuff remembering earlier stuff…

A phone call. The College Dean wants to know if I’d be willing to moderate a round table discussion on Sustainability and the Liberal Arts with a distinguished visitor the day after I get back. Suddenly there’s homework.

I walk down to the bluff listening to the glocks of three ravens flying formation.

I encounter a squirrel cheeping loudly and take his picture and a film and sound recording.

Douglas squirrel Tamiasciurus douglasi …skull olive brown on the back and buff underneath, the two colours being separated by a black line. The bushy tail is also darker above…coniferous seeds from the mai pat of the squirrel’s food, supplemented by berries and mushrooms. …does not hibernate…stores large quantities of cones for winter use….active during the day, scolding and chattering as it tries to chase other animals from its home territory. Nature West Coast 205

Follow the trail to below the summit. See Cortes and Twin Island.

Walk back and hear chipping and see a little wren on the path back to the house. Winter Wren, Troglodytes, troglodytes

Repair gasket on woodstove.

Eat the last leftovers of Michael’s Snow White Chicken. The water chestnuts and baby bok choy and diagonally sliced asparagus and the local grown chicken, stewed in its own broth, whitened with the corn starch—along with the remains of a bottle of Okanagan Semillon Chardonnay.

Finish reading Prodigal Summer. Its happy ending makes me feel happy. A vulgar enjoyment. I will enjoy sharing it with students.

This is my last night here until April or May. I love this house, this land, this neighborhood, this province, this country.